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Vinson thinks frac sand may revitalize entrepreneurship in the area and even drive up property values, especially for properties suspected of containing frac sand. "Because of the lakes and the White River itself, we're still going to attract retirees, because compared to many other states, land is cheap here. Until we have a real uptick in the mining, raising the price of land, there's going to be an attractant ... until there's any particular indication from the mining process that would give some idea that maybe it would be unsafe for them," he said. He has been contacted about land for another frac sand project, but he can't disclose any details.
Ed Alexander, a former Arkansas State University music professor who retired to Izard County, views mining as an economic shortcut. "The real growth is through people like myself buying vacation homes or retirement homes ... . You can make the argument that 22 jobs in a sand mine certainly more than displaces jobs in the construction of new and vacation homes in the tourism industry. And the general willingness of people to move to this area is going to be impacted, wondering, is there going to be a sand mine two miles from my house?" he said.
In fact, if things go according to his neighbor's plan, there will be a frac sand mine less than half a mile from his house. A few years ago Joe Collins, an optometrist living in Jacksonville, bought about a thousand acres next to Alexander's property and began testing core samples for frac sand. Alexander learned of Collins' plans secondhand and later found an investment proposal for Petros Energy online. A phone conversation with Collins confirmed the plan, so Alexander spread the word to roughly 50 households in a three-mile radius — the area where he thinks property values would be most affected. Collins refused to talk to the Arkansas Times about Petros, saying only that the company hasn't done any mining or even applied for permits yet.
Alexander believes that Petros may never materialize. "There may not even be any sand ... the guys taking the core sample said they didn't find any," he said. But he worries that amateur efforts may lead to another B&H/Bluebird-flavored episode, resulting in environmental trauma. Other neighbors are worried for more personal reasons.
"There's a couple that lives at the end of Red Sanders Road, and they're extremely private people. But they contacted me and asked if I could meet with them, and they showed me their view. If Dr. Collins builds a mine, instead of a view, they'll be looking at a processing plant. It's just not fair that someone can come in to enrich themselves at the detriment of a lot of other people," Alexander said.
In the spring of 2011, 16 legislators formed the Fayetteville Shale Caucus to advocate for the fracking industry on behalf of its economic benefits. Because frac sand mining is still largely speculative here, it hasn't warranted much attention from them.
Sen. David Wyatt (D-Batesville), who represents Izard and Independence counties, said while the caucus hasn't spent much time discussing frac sand mining, he thinks of the frac sand as a boon for the area. "If it creates jobs, I don't see it as a problem," he said. He termed the fine paid by the Bluebird mine "extraordinary, since what happened was like what happens in nature, when there comes a big rain and sand gets flushed back into the creek."
His Izard County colleague in the Senate, Sen. Missy Irvin (R-Mountain View), also welcomes frac sand mines. At a caucus meeting last February, she said she had worked with the ADEQ to help Bluebird Sand secure permits. "My district ... has a very large deposit of sand, which is used for fracturing ... and there's going to be an influx of those. Right now we have, I believe, two or three slated to operate, open up business ... so it's really going to dramatically change the landscape and everything," she said.
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